It’s been called a “compulsive behavioural disorder similar to any other addictive pattern”. The symptoms include desk hovering, excessive email sending and a need to control every part of an enterprise, no matter how small. Micromanagement is a far too common problem in many workplaces but, according to retention reports, it’s no longer a leadership style that Gen Y, in particular, will stand for.
“After decades of managing and mentoring rising leaders, I am not convinced that there is less tolerance for micromanagement in the modern workplace, but I am convinced that employees have more options to escape micromanagement,” says Kylie Wright-Ford, an operating executive and co-author of The Leadership Mind Switch. “In any generational cohort, you will find a continuum of hatred for micromanagement, but one of the differences with Gen Y is that they are liberated from the historically rigid social and economic ties to a single employer for long periods of time. They are voting with their feet against the manager that demotivates them with behaviours that signal that they are not trusted or smart.”
According to one study, nearly 60 per cent of people have suffered under a micromanaging superior. “In my experience, micromanagers tend to call a lot of meetings where they collect information they use to make detailed changes,” says Kylie. “Over time, employees that have a micromanaging boss tend to do two things in such meetings; hide stuff or stop coming up with creative solutions to problems because they don’t see the point. A team can become frozen and unable to move projects forward.”
Don’t want to lose your star employees due to your over-controlling tendencies? Here are the dangers of micromanagement, and how to switch to a liberating leadership style.
1. It freezes productivity
People who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which found that “choking under pressure” in the workplace can be triggered by “explicitly monitoring”. “Managers need to learn how to collaborate instead of dictate,” says Kylie. “They need to work with direct reports on the metrics for success on specific projects or initiatives and then together set specific timeframes for review on how they are tracking.” It could come down to the F-word – fear. “Micromanaging is a natural response to fear of failure if someone else doesn’t execute to your liking,” says Kylie. “So uncovering any mismatch in expectations on both sides as early as possible will help both parties succeed.”
2. It’s a morale zapper
Nearly 70 per cent of people say micromanagement has decreased their morale, according to one study. It’s perhaps not surprising when autonomy and trust are shown to boost employee morale levels. “People of all ages, but especially the rising generations, want to be empowered, authorised and enabled to fix inefficiencies in an enterprise,” says Kylie. “Your role as a leader is to ‘unblock’ them’ – free your people! Unblocking leaders are thoughtful and positive; they encourage people to stretch themselves in new ways. They avoid making people feel invisible.”
3. Gen Y want ‘guidance not gurus’
This was the finding of a survey of Millennials’ preferred leadership style, which found that Millennials, in particular, want to be pointed in the right direction, not preached at. “One of the behaviours I teach clients is how to be ‘uber-communicative’,” says Kylie. “This doesn’t mean giving more directions and specific guidance on everything your team does. It’s a two-way flow of information between you and your team using tools that they embrace – Yammer, text, Slack, Salesforce chat, instant message, etc.” The aim is to create a “healthy flow” of updates rather than a dictatorship. “This gives teams the power to perform because of greater transparency,” she says. “It will, hopefully, save both sides from mishaps occurring because of misunderstandings.”
4. It slows down work-flow
In a study of US and European companies, The Boston Consulting Group found that over the past 15 years the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed has increased by up to 350 per cent in some organisations. The result? Projects slow down or grind to a halt completely. The solution? Kylie teaches clients to “protect less but protect fiercely.” “Let go of some of the operations management tasks in the spirit of letting your team find efficiencies and innovate,” she says. “But set clear decision rights at every level within a team so someone is accountable. Clarity on exactly who is able to make decisions on key items like spending limits, external and internal communication, customer issues, error fixing and talent decisions is crucial.”
5. It results in burnout
According to research, micromanagement increases the risk of burnout, not only in employees but also for the boss that is doing the micromanaging. Both parties are more likely to work excessive hours, be unable to switch off at home and suffer from stress and anxiety. The antidote? Playfulness! “Make the switch to being a more playful leader,” says Kylie. “This isn’t about frivolity. It’s about building a creative and positive [environment]. Playful leaders are never frosty. Your team will hopefully find you more approachable and, as a result, will be more likely to raise questions and share thoughts – without you having to hover over them.”